In his 25-plus years as a Texas state senator, John Whitmire had never received a phone call like this one.
"I know your daughters' names," said a nasal voice. "I know how old they are. I know where they live." Then the caller recited the young women's names, ages, and addresses. The senator, sitting at an antique rolltop desk in his Houston office, gripped the handset tighter.
Whitmire is the bald-headed, blunt-talking chair of the state senate's Criminal Justice Committee, a law-and-order man who displays an engraved pistol in his office. But that call last October 7, he says, "scared the hell out of me." Richard Tabler, the man on the other end of the line, had murdered at least two people and possibly four. He was a prisoner on Texas' death row, supposedly locked safely away. But from the narrow bunk of his solitary cell an hour's drive north of Houston, Tabler had reached out and touched one of the Lone Star State's most powerful politicians with a smuggled Motorola cell phone.